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Using the Total Station for Measurements and Animation in Vehicular Reconstruction


A total station is an advanced imaging and measurement system that allows police, crime scene investigators and private accident reconstructionists to produce accurate measurements and data for 3-D animations or mappings. Examples of where a reconstructionist analyzing an accident would use a total station would be: (1) vehicular accidents involving a line of sight issue, (2) roadway design claims where water is accumulating and (3) discrepancy on the placement of vehicles in an accident. A Total Station can also be used for several other applications with the majortiy relating to construction related accidents.

A total station is an optical instrument initially designed for modern surveying. It is a combination of an electronic theodolite (transit), and electronic distance measuring device (EDM) and software running on an external computer. With a Total Station, the user may determine angles and distances from the instrument to points to be surveyed. With the aid of trigonometry, the angles and distances may be used to calculate the coordinates of actual positions (X,Y, and Z or northing, easting and elevation) of surveyed points.

So the question arises – should you investigate using a total station in your claim or litigation? On the positive side, the total station does produce the details possible to create 3D animations that may be used as highly persuasive demonstrative evidence. Also if you would like to return to the accident scene and view the topology from a different perspective you can because all of the measurements are contained in the external computer which allows mapping from several different perspectives.

On the negative side, the total station is a highly intensive piece of machinery that costs a great deal to get the measurements. Most total stations are designed so that it requires two qualified people to operate the pieces of equipment. Also, the cost of collecting, analyzing and producing the 3-D animation can be quite significant when only a layout plot and calculations may be needed for the accident.

CED Investigative Technologies  has the ability to analyze accidents both using and not using the Total Station. The reality is that if the engineer possesses the proper accident reconstruction skills, the engineer will gather the evidence, measurements and documentation necessary to provide a comprehensive opinion as to the causation — or contributory factors — involved in an accident. Therefore, the cost initiating a total station measurement may not be realized unless the liability or exposure is very significant where all angles should be explored. The ultimate answer to this question is normally determined by the client and the engineer to quantify costs and needs for demonstrative evidence.

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